When Ray Conner retired as head of Boeing Co.’s commercial aircraft business in 2017, the company threw a farewell party for its lifelong employee. Among the speakers: Willie Walsh, who runs the IAG SA airline group and had built a close rapport over the years both with Conner and Boeing, having spent almost two decades piloting 737 planes himself.
Walsh’s message: relationships matter, both between individuals and companies. Now, with Boeing in crisis after its all-important 737 Max model was grounded in the wake of two deadly crashes, the company was able to call on the robustness of that partnership. In a stunning move at this week’s Paris Air Show, Walsh ordered 200 of the Max, a huge commercial bet on a plane whose return to service remains undecided, and a resounding endorsement at a time when Boeing needs all the support it can get.